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Balikatan 2011 downsized but participants’ zeal as strong—official

First Posted 15:48:00 04/05/2011

MANILA, Philippines?The reduction of the number of US military participants in this year's Balikatan exercise will not hamper the activities planned for the bilateral training, an official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday.

"It will not affect us in any way and this (Balikatan 2011) is a continuing effort between our armed forces," Rear Admiral Emmanuel Martir, co-exercise director for Balikatan 2011, told reporters. "We can still attain interoperability, we can still check, evaluate our readiness," he said.

Balikatan 2011 was officially opened in ceremonies held at the AFP General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo. Held until April 15, Balikatan 2011 has lined up such activities as medical and dental missions, field training exercises and explosive ordnance disposal training.

Disaster rehabilitation and rural development projects will also be conducted in Central Luzon, according to Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski, Balikatan 2011 co-exercise director.

"Many of our communities will benefit from the humanitarian missions which are part of our activities," Martir said.

In his speech during the ceremony, US Ambassador Harry Thomas said that they reduced the number of US military participants for this year's Balikatan since many US troops are still helping in relief and recovery efforts in Japan, which was hit by a magnitude-9.0 quake and a series of tsunamis that destroyed several cities in northeastern regions.

"The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us why Balikatan is so important," Thomas said. "It is this kind of training that enables our forces to be effective in responding to natural disasters and other crises that threaten public health and safety."

Wiercinski echoed Thomas, saying "Balikatans prepare us to address traditional conflicts and unconventional threats of manmade and natural (causes) that transcend natural borders.

Wiercinski was unable to give the exact number of American troops participating in this year's exercise but said that a battalion of American Cavalry Squad would be coming from South Korea.

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